(Saturday, October 11th)
Final Score: (22) North Carolina 29, Notre Dame 24
Chapel Hill, NC (Sports Network) - Quan Sturdivant highlighted an outstanding second half for North Carolina's defensive unit with an interception return for a touchdown, as the 22nd-ranked Tar Heels topped the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 29-24, in a thrilling contest that went down to the wire.
The victory was Carolina's first against the Irish since 1960 and second in 18 meetings between the schools.
Cameron Sexton played mistake-free ball behind center, hitting 18-of-32 passes for 201 yards with a rushing touchdown for North Carolina (5-1), which has won three straight games since a 20-17 loss to Virginia Tech.
Hakeem Nicks hauled in a game-high nine balls for 141 yards, while Shaun Draughn logged 91 yards rushing on 17 carries for the victors.
Jimmy Clausen threw for a career-high 383 yards and a pair of touchdowns but threw two picks and lost a key fumble as Notre Dame (4-2) failed to move to 5-1 for just the second time since 1998.
Golden Tate and Michael Floyd each caught a touchdown to go with 121 and 93 yards receiving, respectively.
The Irish had a chance to steal the victory in the waning seconds, as Floyd caught a 26-yard pass from Clausen on a crossing pattern down to the Carolina 7. But the highly touted freshman fumbled the ball while apparently trying to pitch to a teammate and Carolina recovered to pick up the rare win over its non-conference foe.
"I can give you all sorts of stats, but really stats are for losers," Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said. "The big thing is, did you win or did you lose, and we lost. And that's really the bottom line."
With UNC trailing 24-16 midway through the third quarter, Sexton found Nicks on 19-yard completion on 3rd-and-18 to prolong a scoring drive. The 13-play march ended with a touchdown plunge from Ryan Houston, and though the two- point conversion failed, Carolina defensive tackle Aleric Mullins stripped Clausen on the next possession.
Mullins recovered the loose ball at the Irish 42, and the running of Draughn brought Carolina inside the 10. On the first snap of the final quarter, Sexton rolled out on a bootleg and took it himself into the end zone from the four as Carolina led for the first time, 29-24.
Notre Dame then moved into enemy territory but failed to convert on a 4th- and-7 at the Carolina 27. The Heels quickly punted and the Irish again moved down the field, only to have Clausen throw an interception on a broken pattern.
The turnover came with 4:50 remaining on the clock, but the Irish got the ball back after a controversial replay reversal on a third down reception by Brooks Foster.
With 1:47 remaining, Clausen led the Irish down the field only to fall just short on Floyd's fumble in the waning seconds.
"We are excited and thrilled to have won the game. I don't know if I have ever been involved in a bizarre a football game as what transpired," Carolina head coach Butch Davis said. "It was two teams that fought hard and you've got to give Notre Dame an awful lot of credit. I know they hate coming out on the short end. It's two programs scratching and fighting and trying to find a way to reestablish themselves as football programs."
UNC went three-and-out on its first possession while the Irish used the arm of Clausen to get on the board. The quarterback's fifth completion of the drive came on 3rd-and-10 with a perfectly thrown fade to Tate in the left corner of the end zone from 19 yards out at the 10:27 mark of the first.
Carolina made it a 7-3 game on a 41-yard field goal by Casey Barth on a drive highlighted by Nicks' 31-yard reception and an Irish personal foul penalty.
Armando Allen gave a spark to the maligned Irish rushing attack with runs of 16 and 14 yards on the ensuing drive, paving the way for Brandon Walker's 42- yard field goal three minutes into the second stanza.
The Heels then held the ball for 7 1/2 minutes but only came away with three points, as Barth knocked in a 34-yarder after the hosts recovered a fumble on an errant snap exchange on third down.
The Irish answered with a touchdown drive that included a terrific 47-yard reception from Tate. Again on third down Clausen threw a TD, this time on a seven-yard hookup with Floyd on a delayed out route to the right side with 52 ticks left in the half.
Quick, efficient passes from Sexton spear-headed a seven-play drive that resulted in a 42-yard boot from Barth with nine second remaining. Notre Dame fumbled away the ensuing short kickoff, but Barth was well short on a 52-yard attempt as Carolina trailed 17-9 at the break.
On the first play of the third the tide appeared to shift when Carolina linebacker Sturdivant jumped the tight end's route, picked off Clausen and went untouched into the end zone for a 32-yard return TD and a 17-16 game.
"We knew we had to play better on defense," Sturdivant said of the defense's mentality after the break. "We had to do our coverage responsibilities better. They caught us off guard a little bit."
The Irish didn't gain much with their next three plays, but a running into the kicker penalty kept the drive alive. Clausen hit Duval Kamara on a long third down and two plays later James Aldridge plunged into the end zone to cap the 11-play, 72-yard drive with 10:43 left in the third.
After an idle week, Notre Dame takes on former coach Tyrone Willingham's Huskies in Washington on October 25, while North Carolina heads back to the road in a battle with the Virginia Cavaliers next Saturday...Carolina played most of the game without return specialist and big-play threat Brandon Tate, who sprained his right knee in the first quarter. Tate came into the game leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in all-purpose yardage per game (194.6)...Allen led the Irish on the ground with 60 yards on 11 carries... Carolina is ranked in the Associated Press poll for the first time since 2001 when it held the No. 22 slot for just one week.
10/11 23:12:19 ET